To use public Wi-Fi, or to not use public Wi-Fi is an understandable conundrum, especially during this busy travel season. It’s easy and tempting to make that free and easy connection to a public Wi-Fi but resist the urge. The convenience simply isn’t worth the cyber risk.
In short, public Wi-Fi is a cybersecurity nightmare with a staggeringly long list of problems from offering unencrypted networks or using outdated encryption to cybercriminals running snooping and sniffing software on logged-in users to the dangers of a man-in-the-middle attack. There’s even the possibility a cybercriminal has set up their own Wi-Fi hotspot in a public place inviting unwitting users to directly log onto their digital trap.
Highlighting public Wi-Fi best practices, Keeper CEO and Co-founder Darren Guccione recently told Forbes, “Just as a general rule of thumb, we always advise against using open free airport Wi-Fi connections or hotspots. A lot of people ignore the risks. They want to get online. They want to get some work done, but at the end of the day they’re running a risk of getting breached.”
The issue is real. Norton’s Wi-Fi Risk Report found 53% of global travelers can’t tell a secure network from an insecure network and 55% reported not thinking twice about exchanging, sharing or even doing something to get a strong Wi-Fi signal.
Beyond the obvious direct threats like cybercriminals using public Wi-Fi vulnerabilities to infect unsuspecting users with malware or setting their own hotspot for people to unwittingly log onto, the man-in-the-middle attack is a more under the radar threat. The issue is that public Wi-Fi carries the data from the signed-in user before it reaches its destination online. That data could be anything from social media log on credentials to sensitive business information to banking data and all of it could be visible to a determined cybercriminal taking advantage of a captive audience making use of free Wi-Fi.
Protecting Your Online Experience
The first step in ensuring your online activities are secure while out in public is simply not using free or unknown Wi-Fi networks. Most mobile plans offer the ability to create a hotspot directly from a mobile device.
“Almost every smartphone today, whether it’s an Android device or iPhone, has a built-in personal hotspot that is far more secure than public Wi-Fi,” said Guccione in the Forbes article.
Another option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for browsing. VPNs create a private, encrypted network within the public network providing an extra, and known, layer of security and privacy.
“A VPN will help secure your connection to the internet and encrypt everything around you within that ecosystem,” said Guccione. And if you still need to use public Wi-Fi, take these steps to reduce the threat:
– Disable file sharing
– Make sure to log off from accounts when you finish your session
– Don’t allow your phone to auto-connect to Wi-Fi networks
– Do not leave your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection when not in use
– Do not login to networks without password protection